Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Two Cheers For ArtScroll

Dinesh D'Souza was a Ronald Reagan staffer and is an Indian immigrant. He is a bit of a starry eyed America enthusiast -- and why shouldn't he be? In his book What's So Great About America he has a chapter called 'Two Cheers For Colonialism', a provocative title. But he explains inside that Colonialism accomplished great good for the colonized societies. For example, in the country of his birth, India. The British built a railroad system and abolished wife burning. India was left stronger and more ready to confront the world than it had been before. But that said, it wasn't shangri la. Colonialism itself, the stealing of an entire land and the creativity and labor of its people, cannot be excused on the grounds of the greater good. D'Souza says that he fully understands that his grandfather, who experienced it, will always resent the British and never see the good. But that aside, some good obviously came of it and it wouldn't have happened otherwise. That is why D'Souza gives two cheers for colonialism. He cannot give it three, because it was bad. But he gives it two for the good it accomplished. Personally, I think one cheer is more appropriate than two, but I get his point. I guess 'One Cheer For Colonialism' would not have sounded right for his point.
Which leads me to ArtScroll, that publishing house that everyone loves or loves to hate. I give ArtScroll two cheers. It cannot get a third cheer for all the hagiography, the books that they'd never translate (Moreh Nevuchim anyone?), the spin they pull on their works etc. But neverthless there is no one who can say that a tremendous amount of effort does not go into their works. And the fact is that they are making a tremendous amount of Torah primary sources available for all. True, their translations and notes spin the texts in ways they'd like. But who else is doing the work? Is Jacob Neusner's Talmud as good as the Schottenstein Edition?
And to the extent that exasperation with ArtScroll has (or will, or should) drive competition to produce alternative, high quality works in English that is a good thing. In short, would all us ArtScroll detractors not see a void were ArtScroll and all its works to disappear? I think we would.
So two cheers for ArtScroll!

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